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verb (used without object)
  1. to walk or go with faltering steps, as if from extreme weakness.
  2. to sway or rock on the base or ground, as if about to fall: The tower seemed to totter in the wind. The government was tottering.
  3. to shake or tremble: a load that tottered.
  1. the act of tottering; an unsteady movement or gait.

Origin of totter

1150–1200; Middle English toteren to swing < ?
Related formstot·ter·er, noun


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1. See stagger. 2. waver. 3. oscillate, quiver.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for totter


verb (intr)
  1. to walk or move in an unsteady manner, as from old age
  2. to sway or shake as if about to fall
  3. to be failing, unstable, or precarious
  1. the act or an instance of tottering
Derived Formstotterer, nountottering, adjectivetotteringly, adverbtottery, adjective

Word Origin

C12: perhaps from Old English tealtrian to waver, and Middle Dutch touteren to stagger
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for totter


c.1200, "swing to and fro," perhaps from a Scandinavian source (cf. dialectal Norwegian totra "to quiver, shake"). Meaning "stand or walk with shaky, unsteady steps" is from c.1600. Related: Tottered; tottering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper